Equivocating on Qatar

Qatar must also immediately stop its support of terrorist organizations and end its alliance with Iran, the world’s worst sponsor of terrorism.

September 24, 2017 20:32
3 minute read.
rex tillerson qatar

Qatar's foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani (R) and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attend a joint news conference in Doha, Qatar, July 11, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The United Nations General Assembly has historically led to unexpected meetings. A series of meetings this week between American Jewish leaders and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and other members of his family on the sidelines of the GA has been no exception. The meetings have raised challenging ethical questions.

On the one hand, Qatar is one of the world’s primary sponsors of terrorism. It funds Hamas, as well as branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in other Arab countries that threaten the State of Israel. Why would those who oppose Israel speaking to Hamas run to meet with its primary sponsor? On the other hand, Qatar, like Israel, is a small state threatened by its neighboring enemies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the case of Qatar, who reportedly would have attacked were it not for a warning from US President Donald Trump.

It hosts a large US air base, and once featured an Israeli trade office. Trump himself has warned that the dispute between Qatar and its neighbors must not be allowed to distract US allies from forging a united front against Iran.

Maybe by engaging the Qataris, Jewish leaders can help lead the world’s richest country from the dark side to the light. Indeed, we speak to Turkey, which has been no less a sponsor of terrorism under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and praise Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, whose country treats women much worse than Qatar does.

Besides, what harm can be caused by simply talking? That question can be answered by observing the success of Qatar’s international television network Al-Jazeera.

Al-Jazeera covers the Middle East more than any other media outlet. Reaching out to the Arab world in Arabic and the rest of the world in English, it spreads Qatar’s agenda to the entire international community.

That agenda includes empowering the Muslim Brotherhood, replacing the Palestinian Authority with Hamas, and destroying the State of Israel. Practically, none of those goals can be accomplished without an army, but years of skewed media coverage can certainly make a major impact.

That coverage may soon be tested, because Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas is 82, continues to chain-smoke, and is not in good health. It is imperative to US Jews that Qatar not succeed in its goal of having Hamas take over the PA.

Each US Jewish leader can, of course, make his or her own decision about whether to engage or boycott the Qataris. But those who choose to interact must insist on Qatar immediately changing course.

One way to start is for Qatar to mediate the release of the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, which Hamas has held since Operation Protective Edge in October 2014. Such a move would demonstrate to the world that Qatar can be a force for good if Doha is brought into the camp.

Qatar must also immediately stop its support of terrorist organizations and end its alliance with Iran, the world’s worst sponsor of terrorism. Reopening Israel’s trade office would be another key step.

We Jews believe in the concept of repentance, especially at this time of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. That concept applies not only to individuals but also to countries, whom we believe are also judged by God at this time of year.

The answer to the moral question of meeting with Qatar is the same as the answer to many of the questions in the Middle East: it’s complicated.

The author is president of the Religious Zionists of America.

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